This Saturday Manny Pacquiao will ostensibly lace up the gloves for the last time. His opponent will be one he has fought twice before, and in most fans minds, his opponent is someone he’s beaten twice already.
Tim Bradley has drastically altered his fighting style since he was first featured on major cards. Most memorably, his over-hyped fight against Devon Alexander ended up being more a contest of headbutts and clinches than anything else, though he was still touted as a somewhat of a virtuoso. After that “victory,” he cruised to another ugly win over Joel Casamayor, before being given the opportunity for the arguably undeserved win over Pacquiao. It was after that fight, in response to criticism of his style, that he adopted an entirely new approach against Ruslan Provodnikov. Trying to match his firepower against a born bruiser like Provodnikov was incredibly exciting, but it was a bad decision. Unquestionably sustaining a concussion that night, he fought like a man possessed through 12 grueling rounds for the win. He’s moderated the style transition since the Provodnikov fight, appropriately returning to his more frenetic style against Juan Manuel Marquez, before losing the second Pacquiao fight. He went on to find a good middle ground against Brandon Rios with new trainer Teddy Atlas. He was able to successfully use power punches and combinations, while still avoiding the majority of his opponent’s dangerous shots.
Bradley’s relationship with Atlas has been highly publicized, and as much as I respect and personally enjoy Teddy, I’m not sure he’s had such a dramatic effect on the fighter’s career. It’s clear from the Provodnikov fight that Bradley is capable of dramatic changes of strategy before or during a match. It may simply be a case of good timing for Bradley’s new trainer, except, of course, for the fact that Bradley’s next opponent is Manny Pacquiao. Bradley is very talented, and fast enough to win rounds, especially against an aging Pacquiao, but he’s probably not be capable of the devastating knockout we saw from Juan Manuel Marquez in his fourth attempt against Pacquiao. And Bradley might need to be. Manny may have lost a step to Father Time, but I doubt if that step will constitute the minimum of five rounds the judges saw Bradley needing to win their last contest. Not to mention the fact that Pacquiao will likely be pretty motivated to end on a ‘W.’
Now, on to the gossip. Pacquiao has received a lot of negative attention lately in response to a comment he made about same-sex couples, reportedly saying that they are “worse than animals.” I might be more offended by the comparison to animals than the homophobia, but in any case, the statement came from an ignorant, sheltered perspective that won’t win him any (intelligent) friends. It will add the spice of controversy to Saturday’s pay-per-view event, but really, it won’t affect anything in the ring, and we’ll probably all have forgotten about it by the time this fight is featured in highlight reels of Pacquiao’s career.
Speaking of highlight reels, there may be a silver (or gold?) lining in this “farewell” event for Pacquiao. While Manny intends this to be the last time in the ring professionally, the AIBA has reportedly approved qualification of professional fighters for the Olympic games, as is the case with many other sports. [This recent article from ESPN says that there will be a vote in June to make an official ruling] Manny has mentioned that he wouldn’t rule out participating for the Phillipines at the 2016 games. This would make not only a sensational introduction of professionals to Olympic boxing, but a truly positive finish for Manny, no matter his level of success. Whether Pacquiao competes in the games or not, it’s sure to be an interesting summer for boxing, even when pros are competing for a golden ring instead of money.